Genetic Counseling/Counselor  Program Description


Insider Info

dotGenetic counseling students learn how to help people make medical decisions raised by new advances in genetics.

Genetic counseling is offered as a master's degree, which means you'll need a bachelor's degree in another field first. According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, most undergraduates who apply to a genetic counseling program have earned degrees in biology, psychology, genetics or nursing.

Many people will stop their education at the master's level, but others who want to do research or teach will pursue a doctoral degree.

First-year master's students attend classes and lectures, learning the intricacies of genetics and counseling. The second year is usually spent in the field, treating patients in a hospital and doing clinical rotation or lab work.

Cheryl Shuman is the director of a genetic counseling program. She says her school's program balances classes with practical experience, including clinical rotations, a lab practicum and an independent research project. Courses include molecular approaches to health and disease, advanced concepts in human genetic disease and principles of effective counseling.

In the second year, supervised students see their own patients. "It is a very hands-on type of learning experience," says Anita Dircks. She is the coordinator of a genetic counseling program.

Graduates may choose to become certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling, the accrediting organization for the profession. Most employers expect you to be certified, especially in the U.S., says Dircks.

The board exam is only offered every three years, says Robin Grubs. She directs the genetic counseling program at the University of Pittsburgh. While you might not be able to take the exam right away, employers will want to see that you are board-eligible, she says. To be board-eligible, you must hold a master's from a recognized program.

Competition to get into genetic counseling programs is stiff.

Dircks says strong transcripts and professional recommendations will help you get in. Students must have an A average in the third and fourth year of college courses such as biochemistry, psychology, embryology and genetics.

Shuman says students also need strong writing skills and an ability to interact well with others.

Admissions committees also look beyond grades. "We look at an individual's volunteer experience, counseling experience and their knowledge about the profession," says Dircks.

Grubs suggests students either gain research experience at a genetics lab or work at a crisis counseling center.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Counselors

Genetics Resource Center
Links to general gene information, educational resources and organizations

Careers in the Genetics Field
Interesting brochures on what genetics is and career paths

Genetic Science Learning Center
The basics about genetics, including information about genetic counselors

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this program is about? Check out Just the Facts for a simple description.